The other day, I was talking with one of our “community leaders” about various political issues of the day. In fact, this woman is paid by a local group to stay informed about and involved with issues vital to improving our neighborhoods.

After a while, the discussion turned to public schools, and it became pretty apparent she was no public-school fan.

“We’re getting real close to making a decision on whether we can keep living here in this neighborhood,” she told me, speaking earnestly and with great emotion.

“We love our home here, and our neighbors, and everything about living here, but I just don’t know if we can afford to send our children to private school.”

What about public school, I asked. Which neighborhood public school could her children attend?

There was a long, awkward pause.

“Well, it’s…um…ah…”

Well, I asked, what has happened at this unnamed school to frighten her so?

Silence.

Are the test scores poor, I asked? Are there racial problems? Fights? Had she spoken with the principal about the problems?

“I don’t exactly know,” she said, somewhat sheepishly. “I’ve never been to the school.”

Believe me, I don’t have anything against private schools. In fact, a lot of excellent private schools advertise in Advocate Community Newspapers, and we publish an annual private school special section in January in an effort to identify educational choices available to neighborhood parents.

But I must admit, I didn’t think we needed a milk-carton promotion to identify “lost public schools.”

A lot of sad things are happening in our schools. I don’t need to go through that list, because if you’ve watched any television lately, you know what I’m talking about.

But let me ask you this question: If we as parents don’t even know the names of the public schools we routinely criticize, and if we’ve never been inside these schools or talked with the people who staff them, what are we teaching our children?

We’re teaching them that it’s easier to join the chorus of complainers about our public schools than it is to stand up and say: “Hey, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Do you?”

Criticism certainly is in order these days, but it isn’t fair to toss all public schools and all public school children into the dumpster.

Every month, the Advocate publishes stories about parents, teachers and students who are working hard to improve our public schools for those of us who can’t afford a choice and for those of us who are making an informed one. (Honestly, we don’t have to look very hard to find these outstanding citizens, either; they are, literally, everywhere.)

These people are dedicated to making things better for the rest of us – even those of us who don’t have a clue about what’s really going on in our public schools.

We owe these people a debt of gratitude for standing against the tide of public opinion. And they probably owe the rest of us a swift kick in the kiester.

More than a few of our neighbors seem to believe our neighborhood is a veritable hell-hole, and they act as if they can’t wait for an opportunity to flee to some suburb (any suburb?) that offers purportedly lower crime rates, better schools, etc.

So I noted with interest a recent quote in The Morning News from Sgt. Ed Coleman, who heads a Richardson police youth crime and gang unit, concerning recent violence in his city’s public schools:

“Things happen in the suburbs, too. I really don’t know that suburban schools in general are safer than inner-city schools.”

I can’t add much to that statement, other than to reiterate the obvious: Running away from our problems isn’t going to improve anything.

Why don’t you join those of us here at Advocate Community Newspapers. Stick around and help us make a difference.

Speaking of making a difference, Becky Bull joins us this month as editor of Advocate Community Newspapers.

It’s a job she can’t wait to start.

“I thought I had had my fill of journalism and newspaper jobs,” Bull says. “But when I saw how the Advocate approaches neighborhood problems, and how the staff really wants to make a difference, it renewed my enthusiasm for newspapers, and I wanted to help.”

Bull joins us from jobs as a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the Dallas-area Suburban Tribune. Most recently, she was community education coordinator for the Roseate Women’s Center of Northwest Houston. Bull graduated from SMU with a degree in journalism.

Expect to see Bull at your neighborhood meetings (let her know when they are scheduled), and give her a call if you have a story idea or would like to comment on our newspapers.